By Lindsay Mohlere
Believe it or not, there’s actually some good news coming out of Washington D.C.
Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act
On Tuesday, September 25, the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved the Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act (SB2290). Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) introduced the bill in January, and it finally made its way through the morass of government to the committee for the all- hands vote. The bill still has to make it through the House and the full Senate, but this early bipartisan support could help pave the way for passage in the near future.
SB2290 mandates the development of consistent protocols and plans for the use of new technology by federal land management agencies. It would bring, within a year after the bill is enacted, the development and operation of a tracking system to remotely locate the position of fire resources assigned to Federal Type 1 incident management teams. In addition, the bill would increase the effectiveness of wildfire response by providing crews on the ground with GPS locators and using unmanned aircraft systems (drones) to scout out and map wildfires in real time.
The technology and various systems have already been proven effective by a few local and state agencies like CALFire. There’s no question, the technology saves lives. Just how long it will take for the bill to become law is the big question. Hopefully, our flannel-mouthed luminaries that sit across the aisle from each other in D.C. can bury the hatchet and get this piece of legislation done.
Fire and Weather
New computer models are changing the way we gather data on how fires interact with the atmosphere. The National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, has recently developed a new prediction method.
A research team led by atmospheric scientist Janice Coen has applied complex math and fluid dynamics to study how air moves when it is heated by fire, and how that motion then affects fire behavior. Her work has shed some light on several surprising fire events, like the “firenado” generated by California’s Carr Fire this past July.
Ignited by sparks thrown from the rim of a flat tire scraping a road’s pavement, the Carr Fire eventually torched 930 acres (359 square miles), destroyed more than 1,000 buildings, and claimed the lives of seven individuals, including one firefighter.
The “firenado” was set off near Redding when rising air heated by the fire collided with the turbulent air surrounding the blaze. It generated winds exceeding 124 miles per hour and temperatures over 2700 degrees Fahrenheit.
The event was triggered by strong winds pushing down mountain slopes and crashing like wave curls at the base of the hills. This turbulent air met the flames and then the fire and super-heated air began swirling and rising together forming a devastating vortex.
Coen and her team’s research of different fire models takes a giant step toward understanding fire patterns and will certainly offer clues to how we manage future fires.
Prescribed Burn Rant
I don’t have a problem with prescribed burns. They’re an efficient fuel reduction tool. However, when the Forest Service decides to put the match to a particular piece of ground, I would think it prudent to coordinate with other local and state agencies, but alas, I may be wrong.
A couple of weeks ago, I, along with more than 500 other Oregon hunters in the Chesnimnus Game Management Unit #58 in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest were greeted by the snap and crackle and thick smoke of burning timber on opening day of the 2018 Rifle Buck Season. It was a rude awakening to discover the bounty we were seeking for our freezers had been driven out of the unit by the fires.
When an OFW game warden stopped by our camp to check licenses and tags, I asked him if the Forest Service coordinated lighting the fires with the Fish and Game. He responded that he didn’t think so. “The Forest Service has signs up, but they do pretty much what they want to do.”
I wish I would have seen one of those signs before I plunked down $27.50 for the tag, spent a few hundred bucks on preparing my rigs for the adventure and another $200 on food and refreshments, and drove seven hours one way plus gas, just like the other 500 or so hunters stuck in the smoke pit.
Most people understand the importance of prescribed burns, but it’s a hot coal down the back of the pants when your hunting season gets torched because one agency didn’t inform another agency of their intended actions.
Here are a couple of things I’d like to know: Why didn’t the Forest Service inform ODFW of the intended burn? On the other hand, did ODFW know in advance and decide not to take any action to inform the hunters who drew tags for the unit? Is ODFW going to do anything, like refund the cash for the tags, or just take the money and run?
The Forest Service and ODFW should man-up. The 500+ deer tag holders in the Chesnimnus Game Management Unit deserve an explanation.
That’s a wrap. Stay safe out there.
Fire season is finally winding down, but it’s been a rough go. The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho, reports this year’s wildfires are on track to cause at least as much damage in the United States as the fires last year. Indeed, those blazes burned a bigger area in 2017 than in almost any year since 1983.
As of September, 48,584 fires had torched at least 11,500 square miles nationwide. That’s an area larger than Massachusetts. NIFC has also reported more than 50 large fires are burning in the West — 20 of them still uncontained.
Talk back – TWfirecolumn@gmail.com
(Source: InciWeb, ODF, WA/DNR, NWCC, USFS, AP, NIFC, Wildfire Today)
Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture/USFS
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